That’s Me In His Arms

This article was first published in the December/January 2018 issue of North American Whitetail magazine.

He still claims it was the best shot on a deer he ever made.

The year was 1977, and Oklahoma didn’t yet have the deer population it does now. Deer sightings, rare as they were, were gossiped over in coffee shops and lied about while leaning against pickup trucks. Does were seen more often than bucks, but they were off limits. He wanted nothing more than to shoot this one, though. She had him pegged in his tree and was stomping her disapproval. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted another deer. This one had a few inches of antler atop his head and was fair game. In a single motion he spun and squeezed the trigger on his Winchester .30-30. The buck disappeared in a bound, but he left a trail of blood behind.

There’s a picture of that buck hanging in our garage. It’s grainy and out of focus and one of my most prized possessions. Horn rimmed glasses. Red plaids. A proud smile on my father’s face.

That’s me in his arms.

Forty years and dozens of deer later, my father and I still share a relationship that is most comfortable when we’re sitting in a blind together.

This fall, we’ll pack our trucks with grub and gear and meet my brothers and nephews for our annual campout. We’ll sit around the campfire eating my mom’s venison stew. We’ll cower from the cold, huddling too long in our sleeping bags, and be late to our stands. We’ll tell the same stories under lantern light we tell every year . . .

. . . like the tale of my first black powder buck.

We’d hardly seen a deer all weekend, and the cold and wet was dampening our spirits. Dad and I were sitting together with one gun between the two of us when a sneezing fit struck me. He grunted every time I sneezed, seven or eight times consecutively, and just about the time I recovered, a doe blasted off the ridge above us. A nice nine pointer was hot on her trail, and when dad ‘Whoa buck!’ed him, I snapped off a shot.

. . . or the late November hunt when I talked dad into shooting a deer he really didn’t want to.

I was living and working in another state at the time, and my hunting opportunities were limited. It was late morning and the doe and fawn we’d seen had moved off when a young buck worked his way through. I suppose dad knew how badly I wanted to run my hands over horns so he shot the little buck, dropping it in its tracks. I was still smoothing the buck’s cape when I felt dad slip a harness around my shoulders. Longest drag of my life.

. . . or the shot my nephew, Logan, put on his first deer.

We were two to a blind, and Logan was paired with my brother Kevin. It was just about twilight when thunder began to threaten the approach of one of Mother Nature’s temper tantrums. Most of us were collecting our gear and praying we’d make it to shelter before the storm hit. Logan was praying he’d make a good shot on the young buck that had just stepped out of the shadows. He was already squeezing the trigger when he asked my brother if he could shoot, and the deer was hit and running hard before Kevin even got the yes out. At the report of the rifle, we all converged and began scouring the woods for sign of blood or buck. I lucked into spotting the deer, and he was field dressed by way of high beams and lightning flashes. I think my dad was prouder of me for finding that buck than he would’ve been if I’d shot it myself.

As the days shorten and the summer sun fades, our conversations will once again turn to powder grains and the price of corn. We’ll begin to figure out football schedules and start talking about finding a long weekend when we can dig our camouflage out of the corners of our closets, when we can leave the worries of the world for a while, when we can tell those same stories again. We’ll meet up at my folks’ house and remember all the things we meant to grab. We’ll drink a glass of my mom’s sweet tea, and our wives will wish us luck as we kiss them goodbye.

And my dad will be in the center of it all, packing and repacking, asking what it is that we’re forgetting, that same proud smile on his face.

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